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7 things we have learned in 10 years of BAM consulting

Sunday, October 02, 2016

As we celebrate IBEC's 10th anniversary, we share this reflection by Larry Sharp and Gary Willett, reprinted from Business As Mission Review, July 11, 2016:

IBEC Ventures was incorporated in 2006 as a consulting group to provide consulting services primarily to Business as Mission startups in areas where there is high unemployment, great injustice and where there a few followers of Jesus.

IBEC’s Purpose: IBEC helps build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.

IBEC’s Vision: We envision an increasing number of small-medium sustainable Kingdom businesses with our special emphasis on areas that are both economically impoverished and spiritually unreached.

So what have we learned in these last ten years? We have made significant mistakes to be sure; and we have seen some successes, but recently three of us senior leaders considered the question of what we have learned. Here are some of those lessons:

1. Business as mission should be fully integrated

We have learned that this is not business as usual, and this is not missions as usual. BAM is a based in a theology of a ‘worker God’ who created man to be a worker and a creator (Genesis 1-2). He also created mankind with various ‘wirings’ and gifts and many are business people with abilities to create wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18), as an act of worship and as their unique ministry. Business is a high and holy calling and those gifted to serve the kingdom of God in this way are ministers, fulfilling their spiritual calling.

Because business is a spiritual activity, based in the theology of a worker God, it is important to recognize that fact at every level of the business. That is why IBEC from the beginning has required businesses to have a business plan and a ministry plan. Neal Johnson in his book Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice, calls it a Dual Mandate and provides a template for a Strategic Country Analysis (SAA), Strategic Business Plan (SBP), and a Strategic Mission Analysis (SMA). All of these are integrated into a master BAM Plan. By writing all of this down it helps the business owner to stay focused, evaluate and be accountable.

Tom has about 30 employees in a manufacturing plant in Asia. He treats workers fairly, pays taxes and lives ethically and with integrity in every area. Every product that goes out the door is created with excellence. The workers are mostly Muslim and Hindu but Tom starts each day with a Christian prayer. He writes a “wise saying” from the book of Proverbs on the office door each week and explains to the workers it is from his Holy Book. He started a Bible study after work when a Hindu worker’s relative died and all the workers were debating the question of what happens after death. Tom sees his business as a whole as a spiritual activity as business and mission are integrated together.

2. Business is not for everyone

We have learned that business is not something which just anyone can do; it is often not easy for those who have been called to traditional pastoral or missionary work. God has not always gifted them with the instinct for business, to work long hours in a business, to take risks, accept failure and have extraordinary grit. Business owners must have passion for their product or service while at the same time keeping a balance so as to not be blind to the needs of customers and financial viability for the business.

It is important that there is sufficient research and testing of the business concept. There is no shortcut to receiving good counsel on the business model, developing a sound value proposition and testing the hypothesis! The lean startup concept is something which can be taught and learned, but in practice not everyone can listen to sound advice, hypothesize fully, do customer development and pivot at the right time.

We have met many mission agency people who thought they could do all this part-time while carrying on mission leadership duties or “church planting” outside of the business context. The work of the BAMer should be in the business – and indeed in the context of the company in the marketplace, new believers may be discipled with a planted church the result.

A mission agency wanted two IBEC consultants to help a couple start a business in a limited-access country in Asia. After two days with the couple on site, we determined that this was not for them and so we told them why we felt that and reported to the agency. Everyone was unhappy. But three years later this couple was a happy and productive team, teaching English in a university in that country. They had found a good fit for their gifting and we helped save them from disaster.

3. Business as mission is a team effort

We have learned that no one person has all the skills for operating a business in his or her home country and certainly not in another culture. Entrepreneur Ernesto Sirolli in a highly watched TED talk affirms, “this world has never seen a person who can make it, sell it, and keep track of the money.” Entrepreneurs learn this before too long and surround themselves with managers, marketers, sales people, accountants, IT experts, legal advice and cultural understanding.

Visionaries and operational people are seldom the same people. Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates to the smallest startup operators have learned that. So building a team is mandatory and the sooner it is done the better. Such a team includes an advisory board for accountability and advice from experienced business people.

Brittany joined a team in Azerbaijan and brought significant skills in coffee roasting and retail. However, she realized that she needed capital developers, managers, operational people, marketers, HR experts, accountants and legal advice. Before long a team emerged and the result after the application of varied skills and much hard work – a roasting company with two successful stores.

4. It takes longer than you think

We have learned through several consulting contracts that it takes several years for most BAM operations to achieve the quadruple bottom line of profitability/sustainability; job creation; disciples of Jesus; and stewardship of creation. It takes capital and it takes time. We have researched and visited many companies who are making significant community impact and they all give evidence of the time it takes.

We have learned to advise at least a time frame of 5-8 years for stable profitability. That of course requires much capital to sustain the operation until that time. It requires much patience to weather the ups and downs during that time. So it is best to begin with a long-term mentality. From a spiritual perspective, BAMers need to stay until God makes it clear it is time to depart.

Ryan and Jana started ABC English school and stayed long enough to see profitability and the creation of 65 regular full-time jobs, as well as lives changed as teachers and students came to follow Jesus. Without the commitment of fifteen years, it is doubtful that measurable success would have been evident.

5. Language and culture learning is critical

We have seen many mistakes that have been due to a lack of cultural understanding. Likewise, we have seen the value of being a respecter of culture, being constantly curious, and being a student of it for a lifetime. One must learn to love the people and their culture and have friends in both the national and the expat community.

Culture is complex and includes the likes of epistemology, beliefs, art, morals, law and all the customs and habits of a people group. One does not learn that overnight or even in a year or two. Every expat abroad needs to be constantly studying culture and we recommend that every business team have someone at advanced levels of cultural understanding.

We helped Rob and his family buy a boat-building business in Indonesia. The entire family loves the country and the people and they speak the language well, respect the culture and the employees love working for Rob. Using a translator, I asked many of the workers why they loved working for Rob. They said things like: he understands us and relates to our situation; he values us and is fair; he takes us on camping trips to talk about life issues; he pays a fair wage within cultural guidelines. Rob is a student of culture and knows the critical importance of language and cultural understanding.

6. BAM workers must have GRIT

Business startups require owners with GRIT – Guts, Resilience, Initiative and Tenacity. One cannot give up but must work hard to accomplish the vision and realize the potential of God-given abilities and opportunities for business.

“You can’t have any quit in you!” – Pat Summitt (One of the most successful USA college basketball coaches)

There are so many things that can go wrong even with good counsel and great planning. Things happen that are outside of our control when working in a country where the “rule of law” is not the norm and economic and political changes can happen overnight. Expat business owners have little control over local laws, taxation irregularities, economic conditions, visa requirement changes and relationship-based decisions.

Lee started a business in a former Soviet republic but before long his partner from that country had stolen his assets and left him penniless. I called him and asked him what he was going to do and thought he may have had enough and leave the country. He readily responded by saying, “I have gone down the street and have opened a new office and started over.” Lee was not going home – Lee had GRIT! And the new business became successful.

7. Integration of faith and work can be learned but it is hard work

Bringing us back full-circle from lesson one, business as mission should be integrated, but this can require a change in mindset. Western Christians have been conditioned to believe and act like there is a sacred-secular dichotomy. Our worldview teaches us that what we do on Sunday and in our private lives seems unrelated to our 9-5 work day world. Such a modern-day gnosticism demonstrates itself in 21st century politics, business education and in the church.

However biblical values are meant to be integrated with every aspect of the Christian’s life including the marketplace and business. This does not come naturally because of the cultural factors which mitigate against it, therefore it must be learned in businesses all over the world. It is hard work but it is a must for the follower of Jesus in business.

Kirk Parette was mentored by Bill Job who defines BAM as “walking with God at work”. Bill does just that, as does Kirk, who states “every day on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship.” Both men see BAM as an integration of following Jesus, and his principles of life, with business decision-making. It is living out the Great Commandment of Jesus to love  employees, vendors and the community, while seeking the fulfillment of the Great Commission as we go and make disciples.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Gary Willett, Director of Consulting, IBEC Ventures

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Celebrating our first decade: the history of IBEC Ventures

Sunday, September 25, 2016

This week marks an important milestone for IBEC Ventures: we're celebrating our 10th anniversary as an organization! It was this week in 2006 that IBEC was formed. As we reflect on the many blessings we've experienced over these ten years, we wanted to share a bit about our history - to help you get to know us better and to see how God uses businesses, IBEC included, to build His kingdom.

Created to solve a problem

IBEC Ventures was formed to solve a problem. In 2005 the leadership of Crossworld, a mission agency, was becoming increasingly interested in establishing business start-ups in underdeveloped, unreached countries, yet they lacked the capacity and personnel for business development in high-risk countries. It seemed that at least some employees could be re-purposed to start and operate businesses but primarily new personnel needed to be recruited and trained.

Crossworld assigned Larry Sharp, VP of Operations, to the task of presenting an action plan. In June 2006 he invited 15 men and women with robust business backgrounds to a day-long consultation in Bala Cynwyd, PA. He and two other Crossworld executives listened as business people made observations and suggestions, many which have been followed to this day.

Incorporation and formation of the board and leadership team

The decision was made to start a separate organization and by late 2006 the Crossworld president and Board of Directors agreed to provide seed capital to incorporate and start a Business as Mission consulting group. The International Business and Education Consultantswas incorporated as a Pennsylvania Not-for-Profit on Sept 22, 2006. In 2008 the corporate office was moved to Perkasie, PA and in 2010 the company filed for a DBA as IBEC Ventures, by which it is most commonly known today.

From the start, IBEC has been an independent entity based on trust with Crossworld with a crossover executive sitting in on board meetings. Bob Johnstone had been consulting with Crossworld for a number of years so he was a natural, experienced and competent person to lead the IBEC Board of Directors.

The first board meeting for IBEC was in March 2007 where Bob Johnstone was elected Chairman; Harold Schell, Treasurer; and Torrey Sharp, Marketing Developer. Larry Sharp as Director was an ex offico board member. The bylaws were approved in April and Harold applied for 501 c/3 status, and received it on January 31, 2008. The purpose and vision were established at the first 2008 board meeting. Torrey Sharp worked quickly to set up a website.

New board members began to be added in October 2007, probably the most significant of which was Ken Leahy, who became Director of Consulting Services and also became the architect of the business model, consulting tools and in modeling consulting trips to countries such as China, Kazakhstan, Nepal and elsewhere. By the end of the decade, IBEC was consulting with businesses in China, Nepal, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, India, Kosovo, Morocco, the Middle East, Haiti and Indonesia.

Dual funding model

IBEC’s funding model from the inception was to receive income partially from donations and partially from fee for service or retainer contracts. For the first several years Crossworld was the largest client with a sizable retainer contract.

Relationship building

In January 2011 IBEC hired Dean Callison as the CEO and Larry became an apologist for Business as Mission and a trainer and speaker on behalf of IBEC. Dean built many relationships including bringing on board member Dave Kier and securing foundation funding. Under Dean’s leadership, we also began to be more intentional about IBEC’s identity thus giving us more relationships within the Christian community in North America. When Dean left in November 2012, Ken Leahy agreed to serve as acting CEO and did so until March 2014. Ken then continued as a consultant with IBEC.

Beginning in 2010 IBEC began to refer to itself as a virtual organization, committed to regular phone meetings and other consistent communication. We started to add consultants from all over the United States. Bob Johnstone was a stabilizing and visionary force from the beginning, and even after his term ended in 2014 he continued as Treasurer and as a consultant. Don Worthington who joined the IBEC Board near the beginning assumed the role of Board Chairman in 2014.

Organization and systems building

In June 2014, the IBEC Board of Directors appointed Bob Bush as the new Managing Director. Bob quickly began to infuse new marketing energy and vision into IBEC and continued with the same leadership team which served with Ken – Gary Willett, Jim Mayer, Larry Sharp, Gwen Rapp and Bob Bush. The Board of Directors and leadership team has been intentional from the beginning about spiritual impact aligned with business success. Spiritual and economic impact has been observable in projects in Nepal, China, Indonesia, India, and Ethiopia.

During the period of 2012-14, IBEC worked hard to strengthen its Customer Relationship Management system (thanks to Gary Willett, Jim Mayer, and Gwen Rapp) and hired a social media specialist, Carolyne Hart, to complement Torrey on the marketing side. She replaced Gwen Rapp on the leadership team and Gary Willett replaced Ken as Director of Consulting and became the primary connection between IBEC and the clients in the overseas markets.

Expansion on many fronts

By early 2015, IBEC had working agreements with Ibex Associates, Agora Enterprises, Third Path Initiative and GEN, as well as new expat clients through North American agencies. The social media strategy included a weekly blog and social media posts helping IBEC connect with prospective clients, consultants and partners in the BAM community. The education side of IBEC included curriculum for BAM understanding, being taught in a variety of venues from weekend modules to 3-credit college and seminary courses.

As we mark our 10-year anniversary, IBEC has about 30 projects under contract. We see new opportunities to expand our client base, including serving business clients who are third world nationals and also serving North American business owners desiring to expand operations overseas. We are also beginning to prepare IBEC consultants to serve North American business persons working overseas for large corporations. We are also formalizing IBEC’s extensive training and business planning tools to provide our growing team of consultants and Subject Matter Experts with industry-leading resources to support IBEC clients in their mission: to impact the Kingdom of God through business.

An unswerving purpose

That mission - serving people and communities through job creation and building sustainable businesses that draw others to His kingdom – continues to bless us as we bless others around the world for His glory, not our own.

IBEC’s Purpose: IBEC helps build sustainable businesses through consultative expertise that changes lives and transforms communities.

Our Vision: We envision an increasing number of Small-Medium sustainable Kingdom businesses with our special emphasis on areas that are both economically impoverished and spiritually unreached.

We're grateful to all who have contributed to the formation and development of IBEC over the years. And now as we begin a new decade of service, thank you all!

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Of seaways, roadways and businesses: finding the best way to the destination

Monday, September 19, 2016

I have always taken an interest in roadways and ferry routes. I recently moved back to the Seattle, WA area (we lived there in the 1960s) and took the ferry across Puget Sound with some family members. The Washington State Ferry System is the largest in the USA and the 4th largest in the world. It dates back to the 1800s and the steamship era and later to the famed “mosquito fleet”. Today millions of commuters and tourists depend on it each year for quick and scenic travel on the waters of Puget Sound.

Before moving we lived in central Oregon so naturally, I took an interest in the Oregon Trail and other roadways of historical significance. I like to take differing routes between Seattle and central Oregon so recently I drove Highway 97, an important north-south artery east of the Cascade mountains. I stopped to rest in a remote region and took a short walk up a little hill to the “old road” (such things have long intrigued me). As I walked along this road of the mid 20th century, I looked up to see an astonishing sight – another even older road! So up I went through the brambles, sharp rocks, and junipers. Sure enough – a real “old road”.

I came back to my computer to find that this totally impassable wagon trail was the Huntington Road, developed by Perit Huntington to bring supplies from The Dalles on the Columbia River to Fort Klamath in southern Oregon in 1867. Their hurdles included valleys and hills, rocky terrain, and hostile native peoples. It required teamsters, scouts, engineers, cooks and wagon mechanics. All that remains of that historic road is hidden behind trees and fallen rock.

What do these two historic passageways of water and land have in common?

Both were discovered and developed to help pioneers and later modern travelers get to their destination in the quickest and easiest way possible. And now in the 21st century, modern transportation vehicles and routing technology have improved these ancient methods.

Finding the best route to a successful BAM business

It got me thinking. Entrepreneurs and business builders in faraway countries and cultures have the task of finding a pathway in difficult and new environments. They are attempting to build a Triple Bottom Line1 business in the most direct manner so as to arrive at the destination: a business that provides jobs creates economic value and introduces people to Jesus.
Ancient seafaring was revolutionized by steam engines and then by diesel technology. Wagon roads moved from horse-driven carriages to internal combustion engine models to modern computerized air conditioned vehicles. What took days to travel from central Oregon to Seattle in a horse-pulled wagon, now takes a few hours in a modern vehicle.

Business developers need a direct road to success. They need all the help they can get to accomplish the “end” goal. That means new ideas from experienced business owners who serve as coaches, mentors, and consultants. It means IBEC Ventures!

IBEC serves clients overseas with general consulting, on-going coaching and with subject matter expertise. This takes place over time or in a single Skype call. All of such assistance helps the business person to improve the route to success.

From peanuts to peanut butter

A current example illustrates. How does an industrious visionary team in central Asia bring peanut butter to a country that values peanuts, but does not produce or import peanut butter? With internal testing which seems to indicate the marketability of peanut butter, what is the quickest road to Triple Bottom Line success? There are many inhibiting factors but IBEC consultants are providing coaching and expertise overcoming what seems like insurmountable hurdles.

We are confident that the road will be built in the best possible route and overcome these obstacles along the way. A profitable peanut butter manufacturing business means better lives for people – a nutritious product, jobs for the unemployed, taxes for the community and a team who does all of this in the name of Jesus.


1 Triple Bottom Line is the goal of all BAM companies: 1) profitability and sustainability; 2) job creation; 3) spiritual capital – making followers of Jesus.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Travel safety and security

Sunday, September 11, 2016

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” Psalms 118:8

IBEC consultants, coaches, Subject Matter Experts, friends, and clients are often in travel mode and find themselves in airports or in situations with less than desirable security standards. This may be a reminder of some of the things to be thinking about when planning a trip away from your city of familiarity. They could save your life.

Awareness (before travel)

  • Become familiar with the country or region by reading about it and interfacing with others who have traveled or lived there. In this way, you will become aware of the probable risks and consequences if you are in trouble. For example, it is common knowledge that pickpockets are very good in Colombia; therefore, be ready to avoid that risk.
  • Good places to visit to learn about your destination include:
  • Study the “Dos and Don’ts” and cultural distinctive for that region.
  • Study some key phrases in the local language before you go.
  • Try to develop these helpful personal characteristics:
    • Tolerance for ambiguity
    • Low-goal task orientation
    • Open-mindedness
    • Being non-judgmental
    • Empathy
    • Being communicative
    • Flexibility and adaptability
    • Curiosity
    • A sense of humor
    • Self-reliance
    • Ability to fail
  • Harden yourself as a target, using survival principles based on common risks. Criminals look for soft targets (people with little travel savvy). For example, there are training materials on how to keep your valuables safe, how to watch for cybercriminals and everyday thieves and safe places to sleep. There is no excuse for jogging with new expensive sneakers, alone, while listening to your iPod in a north African country, as someone I know did – and she paid the price. Several websites are helpful: Maintaining Posture as a Hard Target (
  • Always make sure somebody, someplace, knows where you are and be sure to have your contact numbers in a safe secure place. Let your credit card company know where you are traveling. Have copies of important papers accessible but somewhere off your person.
  • Become aware of any policies which relate to your trip; policies of the host company you are visiting, or the host nation policies, or IBEC guidelines. For example, IBEC has a “Checklist for Consultant Travel Overseas” and it includes things like “be sure to register with the US State Department upon arrival”.
  • Make contingency plans before you leave. This includes a plan of action if something bad happens and assures you of a way to communicate (in many countries I recommend a SAT phone in addition to regular cell phone), an evacuation plan and extra supply of things you don’t want to be without (such as batteries, medicines).
  • There may be release forms you will want to sign before you go. The most serious of these types of things is what to be done with your body if you die over there. There are other less drastic things to be aware of before you go.
  • If you can, get some basic training. For example, Crisis Consulting International has a great 3-day seminar. See Others which I have used or know of and

Avoidance (once you are on your way)

  • Risk can be mitigated by choosing low-risk airlines, hotels, regions of cities and ground transportation means. For example, I recommend not traveling on regional airlines in Nepal or local bus lines in Bolivia.
  • Determine to stay away from areas of civil unrest or known crisis. I once received a phone call from an acquaintance in a former Soviet republic who was taking pictures and when I asked about the gun shots I overheard, he said he was downtown in the midst of a coup – not good!
  • Learn what to say when being interrogated by foreign authorities. We recommend an STS (Short Tenable Statement). This is a one-sentence statement of what you are doing that is authentic, verifiable, consistent, plausible, and creates a clear understanding; and results in a satisfied inquirer.
  • Be a learner and listen! listen! listen! Stay clear of political conversations or sharing your opinion. Remind yourself that someone is always listening. In some countries, hotel rooms may be “bugged” with listening devices watching for religious or political biases. Be respectful of everyone and everything you see, and determine to never disparage the host culture. Train yourself to say, “Oh, that is interesting!” and never, “Oh, that is dumb!”
  • Even though your country may claim to have “freedom of religion” they likely do not have it in the same sense that we think of it. Respect their laws (you should have studied them at least a little before you leave) even if you consider it inconsistent or discriminatory.
  • Have a supply kit which may be resourced before you leave or purchased immediately upon arrival. This will be things like first aid materials, cash, a whistle etc. (see such lists online).

Appropriate action (if something happens when you are there)

  • Be ready to “work the plan” (think Apollo 13 movie) according to how you prepared beforehand. Crisis management is as simple as the outline for the scientific method which we all learned in junior high school. But though the thought process is simple, it is also far more complex in its implementation. During a crisis is NOT the time to make plans for what you are going to do. For example, during a political crisis in Haiti, everyone on our team knew the escape evacuation routes because we had decided ahead of time and prioritized them.
  • Know exactly the protocol for who to call for help and how. There are several options and the organization which may have sent you abroad such as your church, company or IBEC should have arranged these emergency numbers for you. I once received a call because I was the “go-to guy” when a crisis was going on in Yemen, which kicked off a process for implementing evacuation plans.
  • Always know who your friends are and how to contact them for help. Know who will be a crisis management team leader and learn to trust him or her. Remember also that there are professionals to handle negotiations (see websites above) if you are in a hostage situation or something similar. I was once responsible for someone who was doing a water dam project in his country when he was imprisoned. Professionals were able to help me gain his release, even though it took five months.

The time has long since passed since we could freely hop a plane and feel at home most anywhere in the world. We should not fear to travel, however, but with Awareness, Avoidance principles, and Appropriate Action we can travel knowing we have done our best to be secure. When it comes to connecting with BAM Kingdom companies think like Mark Twain:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

But all the while, remember:

“Safety is not a slogan. It is a way of life.”

“Security is not a product but a process.” Bruce Schneier

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Finding fulfillment at work

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Monday is Labor Day in the US and Canada, a national holiday that dates back to the 1880s. It has its roots in the labor movement and is celebrated in September in North America, distinct from most of the world which celebrates the International Workers Day on May 1.

Our Christian faith has much to say about labor and work. God was a worker God and a creative God. He then asked mankind to be creative and to take care of God’s creation (Genesis 1:28Genesis 2:15). Thus work was and still should be an activity of fulfillment, joy, and satisfaction.

Deuteronomy 8:18 validates the ability that God has given to us to create wealth.

I have long been a fan of Paul Sohn’s blogs and this one caught my attention because he highlights Simon Sinek in a short 2-minute video which reminds us that we should be fulfilled at work: Simon Sinek On How To Find Fulfillment At Work. Fulfillment comes as we think about others first through generosity and trusting relationships. It is part of our commitment as God worshipers to obey his commands, one of which is to do good to all. Both the Old and New Testaments refer to the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment – doing good and loving our neighbor.1

As we focus on building start-up businesses and determine the culture of our business, let us think about how we value work and we value our people, thus developing a culture which puts God first and then people – all above our own self-interests.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31

“If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business…make it about them, not you.” Simon Sinek

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Wired for gold

Monday, August 29, 2016

In August, Ashton Eaton won the Olympics decathlon gold medal for the second consecutive time, a feat not accomplished since 1984. He holds the world record in that event.

How is it that a poor kid from a small town in central Oregon with no resident father could rise to be called the “World’s Greatest Athlete”? I learned the answer while listening to Ashton and his mother Roz speak at a TEDX event in Bend, Oregon earlier this year.

Roz, a single mom spoke on the topic, “How to Raise an Olympian”1. She was complemented in her speech by her son Ashton. As it turns out, Roz knew nothing about the events of the decathlon, nothing about athletics and she had no money for sending Ashton to sports camps and clubs. But she taught him something more important which set the stage for his success.

Roz consistently told Ashton, “We have to find out who you are and pursue greatness in whatever that is.” She never said “do this” or “do that”. She never sent him to school to learn to run and jump. She taught him to be “comfortable in his own skin”, to find out how God had made him and to develop that to the fullest extent.

For a while Ashton thought he wanted to be a fighter pilot, then a Ninja Turtle (typical of childhood dreams), but he soon learned that God gave him athletic ability. As that became more and more evident, coaches emerged who saw the talent and worked with him in high school and at the University of Oregon. But Roz taught him to know who he was and develop it fully.

Wired for business

That got me to thinking about how God has wired people for business, for creating jobs, and for creating wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). When that becomes evident it is all important that those people pursue that ability to the fullest. Mats Tunehag quips, “If God has called you to business, do not stoop to be a pastor or missionary.” Be a Kingdom business owner, manager or entrepreneur if that is how God has wired you. It is a high and holy calling as much as anything else.

IBEC looks for men and women gifted and ‘wired’ for business and ready to use that for the glory of God to the ends of the earth. Is that you?

1 Watch this on YouTube: How to Raise an Olympian | Roz & Ashton Eaton | TEDxBend.

An added note: Ashton Eaton is married to Canadian Brianne Thiesen Eaton, winner of the bronze medal in the 2016 heptathlon in the Rio Olympics.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Do you have clear KPIs for your Kingdom business?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What if Jesus was your boss? What if he was the chairman of your board? What if you reported to him each month for your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)?

What would he expect that those KPIs would be? How would he measure how you are doing?

A wise owner or manager continuously keeps his KPIs in mind. He knows that accountability is a key factor in driving results. So it is with God as the owner of our businesses because Kingdom business owners see themselves as stewards.

KPIs should be clear, short and understandable to everyone in the business. They should be measurable and uncomplicated. Either you achieved them or you didn’t; they are not fuzzy.


We expect secular entrepreneurs to think profit margins and growth. But what about Kingdom business owners? Yes, definitely. Jesus himself established a KPI for profit as a measure of success when he told the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30). He made it clear that everyone is entrusted with wealth in unique proportions. In his example he told of one who received five bags of gold and he doubled it; another received two and he doubled it. Both were commended because they “put their money to work.” Jesus said, “Well done.”

On the other hand, one person received one talent and did nothing with it. We might have thought Jesus would have said: “…oh well, he is just not a business guy!” No – he also was expected to be profitable and when he did not even invest the gold in low-interest accounts, he was called “wicked”.

In the Old Testament, God himself told Moses that “…it is he (i.e. God) who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Only business creates wealth – not government, education, the church, or medicine – they all consume it. Business makes a profit, creates wealth and is a key KPI for Kingdom owners.


Christians are God’s ambassadors here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). Imagine – ambassadors of the King of the Universe; the one who is the Creator God and gave us the ability to create wealth. It should be obvious that he expects us to do everything with excellence. “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Excellence should be a KPI; it is measurable. When God made all things (Genesis 1, 2) he said it was good. We are his “… handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” (Ephesians 2:10). To be good is to be of the highest worth. Whether we produce a product or service, it must be good (i.e. excellent) and that should have a measurement connected to it – a KPI.

One way to set the stage for excellence in all you do is to say so in your values statement. David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby wrote this value among other things in his statement of purpose: “Offering our customers an exceptional selection and value.” What a gutsy thing! That held Hobby Lobby to a high standard of excellence, especially when quantified in a way that can be measured.

Excellence buys us the privilege to be overt about Jesus in the marketplace. Because we produce a quality product or service, we then have a right to let people know that the reason is that we are an ambassador of the King. To use a sports metaphor, think Kurt Warner, Tim Tebow, or Russell Wilson!

Making Kingdom of God a priority

Another of David Green’s statements of value declares: “Honoring God in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles. Such a statement helps Hobby Lobby be accountable since anyone could challenge a decision, an activity or any part of corporate affairs by asking if it is consistent with a Biblical principle.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he talked about Kingdom thinking and Kingdom results. He made it clear that key decisions should focus on eternity, not the temporal only. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:19-20). What does this mean for your company? How can this KPI be a key indicator, measurable in a monthly standard?

One way is to take Jesus’ commands seriously and develop measurements which will tell us each month how we are doing. For example, Jesus talked about the top two commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

What does it look like to love God in our business? Everyone can think of ways. One business client in Indonesia posted a biblical proverb on the door where everyone entered each day. The majority Muslim workforce understood that this came from the bosses’ “holy book” and this showed he loved God and it led to significant conversations.

What about loving your neighbor? Business as Mission operatives job creation as loving their neighbor in a world of poverty, injustice, and unemployment, especially when done with integrity, fairness, and justice. It speaks to the employees and the community and attracts people to God himself. When we see people as God’s creation and we give them dignity through job creation, we are loving them in alignment with God’s idea of love.

But there is another of Jesus’ commands called the Great Commission. We are to make disciples – we are to help all peoples to know God and to follow him. Dale Losch, author of A Better Way says disciple making is “pre cross” and “post cross”. Non-followers of Jesus are watching us even if they are not yet his full disciple. All that we do is representative of God and his desire that his Kingdom be built on earth and in heaven. We must figure out ways to make this a KPI in our business.

Social impact

Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, calmed the weather, raised the dead and certainly had an influence on the culture of his day. Kingdom businesses in today’s world can influence and lead culture with their impact.

It is not just social enterprises which should have social impact. Even if you are making widgets, you can develop a KPI which has social impact like Jesus did. Bill began to listen to God’s voice telling him to care about the handicapped on the streets of his city. He took them off the streets and gave them jobs. Over time this created such a change in the city, that city managers in his Asian country began to boast about him at conferences they attended in other cities. Society was being impacted because Bill saw social concerns as something he could develop into a KPI.

In education, they call them behavioral objections; some businesses use the term long and short term goals. Others call them Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Whatever the term, every business person needs to have indicators which demonstrate clear and measurable progress. Start developing some today.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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BAM startups and the testing of fire

Saturday, August 13, 2016

“I delight in my insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

My wife and I have lived in central Oregon for the past six years. This small town of 2,000 inhabitants has been a peaceful place after living in Philadelphia for 17 years and in a large Brazilian city for 21 years before that. Here there is little crime, good weather, and only one potential natural disaster – FOREST FIRE!

We have seen several fires in these six years, a couple of them really big. As I write this blog several hundred firefighters have just departed our small town along with their airplanes, helicopters, trucks and scores of tents. They licked this one in record time.

There is no doubt about it, a forest fire is destructive – but did you know it is not all bad? Fire is both an enemy and a friend. Fire cleans the forest floor, removing windfalls and other debris and opens up the sunlight and brings nourishment to the soil. This allows the trees to grow stronger and healthier. Many fires clear wildlands of heavy brush and leave room for new grasses, herbs and regenerated shrubs that provide food and habitat for many wildlife species.

Near Sisters, Oregon where I live, there are a lot of controlled burns. The idea is that low-intensity flames help prevent large damaging fires that spread out of control and completely destroy forests and residences. Fire also kills diseases and insects that prey on trees and thus keeps the forest healthy. Vegetation that is burned by fire provides a rich source of nutrients that nourish remaining trees.

All of this makes me think about the fire of adversity in a business person’s life and in the life cycle of a Kingdom business. The scriptures teach us much about the importance of the refiner’s fire which purifies, restores and tests us – thus making us stronger and better prepared for what faces us in the future (Isaiah 48:10; 1 Peter 5:10; Job 23:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

What are those tests which are the “fires of affliction” in a BAMers career? I understand these to be things which are outside our control; things we could not have prevented through due diligence or by “counting the cost.” These are afflictions which are the “natural disasters” in the life of a Kingdom business owner.

Macroeconomic Challenges

These are economic issues which exist at the national level and relate to the country or region’s fiscal policy such as tax structure, monetary policy, the currency, or the banking system. This section cannot do justice to a complete understanding of concerns such the fluctuations of a soft currency. An example would be the Brazilian currency in the 1980s when hyperinflation could deflate significant purchasing power overnight. Such instability frustrates international trade agreements and internal business operations alike. I well remember holding a one million unit note in my hand realizing that it was worthless.

Emerging black markets in unstable economies create ethical dilemmas of survival for Kingdom businesses which seek answers among difficult alternatives. How does one pay taxes when the stated “lawful” taxes for income, property, sales, import-export etc. totals more than 100% of revenue. Clearly, no business in that market can survive and at the same time be law-abiding.

In the United States, we have GAAP standardized accounting systems, but most developing countries have no such standards. These are modern day examples of Judges 21:25 “…everyone did as they saw fit.” The net result is a decision-making dilemma and the dire consequence of being unable to please both God and corrupt officials. This would be the equivalent of the fire of adversity.

Political Challenges

We know that our Judeo-Christian history has bequeathed us a “rule of law” society, issuing from the likes of the Laws of Moses, John Locke, and the US Constitution. However, many developing countries can be categorized as police relationship-based (at best) or police states (at worst). It is who you know not what you know. In short – officials play by their own rules.

The political challenges include potential expropriation of assets, nationalization of a company, differing and unstable legal systems, unbinding contracts, corruption as normal, powerless police, religious persecution, and political instability. These issues are not aberrant behavior – they are normal behavior.

I remember one of our clients in the former Soviet Union doing all he could to secure good contracts for the purchase of their agricultural product. However, when a glut occurred in the market, the customer refused to purchase the ripened product and our client essentially lost everything. What did a contract mean? It simply was of value if it was to their advantage and not to the advantage of the expatriate business owner.

Unique Expatriate Challenges

In most ways, expatriate business owners are dependent on individuals who hold power. For example, foreigners living abroad are granted visas to live in a host country. The country has all the power to provide a visa, refuse a visa, or rescind a visa. In another example, local partners can turn against a foreign business owner when least expected. A client discovered one day that his local partner, an attorney, had decided to take off with all the business assets and there was very little he could do about it. Prior to this, he had done all the right things in mitigating this disaster. As one pundit said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Religious persecution is well known in the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist world. There is a fine line between laws which prohibit proselytism and our desire to share our faith. In the end, however, we are at the mercy of local authorities. We have found that the best mitigating factor against religious persecution is to have a legitimate profitable business, provide an excellent service, and create local jobs.

Security issues are unique to the expatriate business owner, whether it be electronic security or security of one’s family in dangerous places. These are real challenges and despite the best efforts to mitigate eventualities, stuff happens.

The Challenge of Culture

It is mandatory that entrepreneurs planning to start businesses in other cultures learn both the language and also the fundamental cultural components of that culture. That sounds simple in a single sentence but that is a life-long endeavor. This is so much more than knowing when to “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands”; it is a complex process of learning a worldview and how that extrapolates to cultural norms.

Part of the challenge relates to cultural implications which are so opposite to our enculturation that we tend to resist and try to change that culture. For example, after living in Latin America for 21 years I still had a hard time accepting that sometimes “no” means “yes” and “yes” can mean “no”. This is rooted in another culture’s priority of relationships and not rules; truth is not absolute, concrete and empirical but is determined by situations and people. Group insiders determine what is true and real and it takes time to be a group insider. This explains the difficulty in contract law or in determining what a response to a critical business question might really mean.

Geert Hofstede has helped business people understand complex elements of differing cultures. For example, the Power Distance Index (PDI) informs us how in many cultures with a high PDI, subordinates are highly dependent on bosses. They do not talk to them and certainly do not dispute their autocratic decisions, while in a low Power Distance culture such as ours, we freely interact with management and prefer consultation in decision making. In high PDI cultures, there might be wide gaps in salary between top and bottom, and certainly in social status. All of this has business implications that might not be readily understood. We can make mistakes which may seem like a fire of oppression has hit us.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it is somewhat representative of the fires of oppression which can be natural in nature. Are they avoidable? Even if appropriate mitigating factors have been considered, the cost has been counted, and risk assessments have been done professionally, there are still things that might not be avoidable. If and when they happen we know that they can be used by the Almighty to make us stronger and healthier – better prepared for the future. Just like a forest after a fire!

“The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

For a good discussion of the challenges of BAM, read:

C. Neal Johnson, Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: p. 417.

Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations – Software of the Mind. McGraw Hill, 1997.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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A not-so-new leadership development policy

Saturday, August 06, 2016

IBEC Board of Directors member, Dave Kier, writes a daily devotional for his family, employees and others. I am fortunate to know him and to read his daily thoughts. He gave permission to reproduce this one from July 17, 2016.

“Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.” Deuteronomy 17:18 NASB®

I think I will institute a new company policy. Before a new leader starts work, he or she must go to a remote cabin along a lake where there is no internet nor television. Only a simple cell phone, not a smart phone, can be taken along with the Bible and a hand full of pencils and tablets. No computer. They will have two weeks to write out the first five books of the Bible and the four gospels. At the end of two weeks, I will go and meet with them to see what they learned about leadership and try to answer any questions. After all, leadership is rooted in God’s spoken word written for us.

This exercise would reveal many things about a person. I would learn if they are disciplined enough to follow through. I would learn if they are learners or if they are the type that go through the motions. I would determine if they are humble, willing to submit to the authority of God’s word. I would learn if they can submit to my authority. They in turn, would learn more than $200,000 of college education could ever teach. I would have a true leader and they would be a better person. There’s no downside to this policy.

This is what each king assuming the throne in Israel was to do, except they only had the writings of Moses to copy. God knew that when a king had to write with his own hand His law, it would mean more to him. God knew that man can take the easy way out so he was to write it in the presence of a priest who was also to explain the difficult portions. We don’t read which kings followed the policy but we sure know which ones didn’t even try. By the time the kingdom was about to be devoured by Assyria and then Babylon, the written word of the Lord couldn’t even be found, which was why they were in dire straits.

I am not much of a policy wonk but this sounds like a very good one. I guess I would have to set the example wouldn’t I?

“Lord, Your word is powerful, sharper than any two edged sword. Your word contains the pathway to life. Your word is truth! How thankful we are that You graced us with Your spoken word written and preserved for us through the ages. Your blessings never end and we thank You. Amen”

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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A crisis of trust – guidelines for BAM owners (Part 2)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Trust. Last week we looked at three concrete actions that business leaders can take to build trust within their organizations [A crisis of trust – guidelines for BAM owners (Part 1)]. We also looked at examples of Business As Missions (BAM) business owners I’ve worked with who applied these trust building behaviors in their companies:

1. Tell the truth and live with integrity.
2. Demonstrate competence.
3. Value people by showing that you care about them.

This week we explore three more trust building actions that result in improved business results AND Kingdom building results:

4. Demonstrate dependability and reliability.
5. Address issues directly.
6. Deliver the unexpected.

4. Demonstrate dependability and reliability.

One develops trust by being consistent, predictable, and keeping your word. Don’t be afraid to state expectations up front such as establishing policies and procedures and then following through on enforcement. If people see that they can count on you to be dependable in small things, they will trust you for the big things. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10.

One way to be consistent is to daily ask oneself if I “walk the talk” and ask others if they see you as one who “walks the talk”. Am I an example of the vision and values of the organization? It is a trust buster to say one thing and do another. This also means being accountable for actions and being responsive to the needs of others.

Joe and Kay made it a priority to live out the values of their company. They demonstrated in a reliable, consistent manner what it meant to follow Jesus’ principles and the employees saw that they “walked the talk”. When we interviewed several employees (there are 65 in total) they all stated that they loved working at the for-profit ABC English School in Asia and most had come to be disciples of Jesus.

5. Address issues directly.

There is no substitute for resolving issues head on by listening to all members in the controversy and expanding people’s involvement in the resolution process. Trust and loyalty is built when the boss addresses complaints fast, listens to everyone, and asks for their input.

The same principle holds true for customers who will learn to trust the company if complaints are addressed, information is shared and they feel they are well cared for. If a mistake has been made, admit it and provide an apology and thus restore the trust needed for a good relationship. Leaders who admit mistakes when they are wrong are not seen as weak – they are seen as being trustworthy.

Dale has developed a credible coffee outlet in Nepal because his credibility is well developed and proven. He has studied business (MBA), has become accomplished in understanding and valuing the culture and is an expert in coffee roasting and retail. In areas where he was weaker, he hired people to help him. Dale has developed competence which is widely recognized.

6. Deliver the unexpected.

One of the best ways to deliver trust is to surprise and delight customers, clients and employees. Deliver more that was promised – more service, more time, more convenience. This adds value and trust; it creates a feeling of goodwill and attracts people to the business and a sense of solidarity in the employees.

When I asked the employees of boat-builder Rob in Indonesia what they liked about working for Rob, they talked about the camping trips they did on nearby islands and how much they were appreciated. This unexpected employee “perk” created such good will that both retention and productivity increased but perhaps more importantly, it created opportunity for significant conversations about life issues.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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